Isaac Asimov (ca. January 2, 1920 – April 6, 1992) was a Russian-born Americanauthor and biochemist, a highly successful and exceptionally prolific writer best known for his works of science fiction and for his science books for the layperson. He also wrote mysteries (many of which were collected in the Black Widowers books) and fantasy. In fact, he has works in every major category of the Dewey Decimal System except Philosophy. He wrote or edited over 500 volumes and an estimated 90,000 letters or postcards. Asimov was a long-time member of Mensa, albeit reluctantly (he described them as "intellectually combative"). Asteroid "(5020) Asimov" is named in his honor, as is Honda's humanoid prototype robot ASIMO.
Asimov was born around January 2, 1920 (his date of birth for official purposes -- the precise date is not certain) in Petrovichi, near Smolensk, Russia, to Anna Rachel and Judah Asimov, a Jewish family. They emigrated to the United States when he was three years old. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York. His parents owned a candy store and everyone in the family was expected to work in it. He saw science fiction magazines in the store and began reading them. In his late teens, he began to write his own stories and soon was selling them to pulp magazines.
He graduated from Columbia University in 1939 and took a Ph.D in chemistry there in 1948. He then joined the faculty of Boston University, with which he remained associated thereafter, but in a non-teaching capacity. B.U. ceased to pay him a salary in 1958, by which time his income from writing already exceeded his income from his academic duties. (Asimov remained on the faculty as an associate professor, in 1979 promoted to full professor, and his personal papers from 1965 onward are archived at Boston University's Mugar Memorial Library, where they consume 464 boxes on 232 feet of shelf space.)
He married Gertrude Blugerman on July 26, 1942, with whom he had two children, David (b. 1951) and Robyn (b. 1955). After an extended separation, they were divorced in 1973, and Asimov married Janet O. Jeppson later that year.
Asimov died on April 6, 1992, having contracted HIV from an infected blood transfusion during heart bypass surgery in 1983. He was survived by his second wife, Janet, and his children from his first marriage. That AIDS was the cause of his death was only revealed ten years later, in Janet Asimov's biography It's Been a Good Life.
Isaac Asimov was a humanist and a rationalist. He did not oppose genuine religious conviction in others but was against superstitious, unfounded beliefs. He was afraid of flying, only doing so twice in his entire life. Asimov was also a claustrophile, that is, he enjoyed small, enclosed spaces.
Asimov was a progressive on most political issues, and a staunch supporter of the United States Democratic Party. In a television interview in the early 1970s he publicly endorsed George McGovern. He was unhappy at what he saw as an irrationalist tack taken by many progressive political activists from the late 1960s onwards. His defense of civil applications of nuclear power even after the Three Mile Island incident damaged his relations with some on the left. He issued many appeals for population control reflecting the perspective first articulated by Paul R. Ehrlich. In the closing years of his life Asimov blamed the deterioration of the quality of life that he perceived in New York on the shrinking tax base caused by middle class flight to the suburbs. His last non-fiction book, Our Angry Earth (1991, co-written with science fiction author Frederik Pohl), deals with elements of the environmental crisis such as global warming and the destruction of the ozone layer.
Asimov began contributing stories to science fiction magazines in 1939; his short story Nightfall (1941) is described in Bewildering Stories, issue 8, as one of "the most famous science-fiction stories of all time" . In 1968 the Science Fiction Writers of America voted "Nightfall" the best science fiction short story ever written . In his short anthology Nightfall and Other Stories he wrote, "The writing of 'Nightfall' was a watershed in my professional career ... I was suddenly taken seriously and the world of science fiction became aware that I existed. As the years passed, in fact, it became evident that I had written a 'classic'."
In 1956 Asimov published the short story "The Last Question", his personal favorite and considered by many to be a contender to "Nightfall". It deals with the ability of humankind to cope with and overcome entropy.
He published Asimov's Guide to the Bible in two volumes — covering the Old Testament in 1967 and the New Testament in 1969 — and then combined them into one 1300-page volume in 1981. Replete with maps and tables, the guide goes through the books of the Bible in order, explaining the history of each one and the political influences that affected it, as well as biographical information about the important characters.
Asimov also wrote several essays on the social contentions of his day, including "Thinking About Thinking" and "Science: Knock Plastic" (1967).
Asimov published two volumes of autobiography: In Memory Yet Green (1979) and In Joy Still Felt (1980). A third autobiography, I. Asimov: A Memoir, was published in April 1994. The epilogue was written by Janet Asimov (née Jeppson), shortly after his death.
Later, in Robots and Empire, a robot develops what he calls the Zeroth Law of Robotics, which states that "A robot may not injure humanity, nor, through inaction, allow humanity to come to harm". He also decides that the robotic presence is stifling humanity's freedom, and that the best course is for the robots to phase themselves out. A non-robot story, The End of Eternity, features a similar conflict and resolution.
In The Foundation Series (which did not originally have robots), a scientist implements a semi-secret plan to create a Utopia. This series has its version of Platonic guardians, called the Second Foundation, to perfect and protect the plan. When Asimov stopped writing the series in the 1950s, the Second Foundation was depicted as benign protectors of humanity. When he revisted the series in the 1980s, he made the paternalistic themes even more explicit.
Foundation's Edge introduced the planet Gaia, obviously based on the Gaia hypothesis. Literally every animal, vegetable, and mineral on Gaia participated in a shared consciousness, and worked together for the greater good. In Foundation and Earth, the protagonist must decide whether or not to allow the development of Galaxia, the ultimate in paternalistic societies.
He wrote The Gods Themselves specifically as a response to these criticisms. In it, he writes about both in great detail. Asimov said that of all his writings, he was most proud of the middle section of The Gods Themselves.
Others have criticized him for a lack of strong female characters in his early work. In his autobiographical writings, he acknowledges this, and responds by pointing to inexperience.
"I prefer rationalism to atheism. The question of God and other objects-of-faith are outside reason and play no part in rationalism, thus you don't have to waste your time in either attacking or defending."
"In 1936, I first wrote science fiction. It was a long-winded attempt at writing an endless novel...which died. I remember one sentence, "Whole forests stood sere and brown in midsummer.". That was the first Asimovian science-fiction sentence.
"Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers."
"Night was a wonderful time in Brooklyn in the 1930s. Air conditioning was unknown except in movie houses, and so was television. There was nothing to keep one in the house. Furthermore, few people owned automobiles, so there was nothing to carry one away. That left the streets and the stoops. The very fullness served as an inhibition to crime."
"No one can possibly have lived through the Great Depression without being scarred by it. No amount of experience since the depression can convince someone who has lived through it that the world is safe economically."
"Until I became a published writer, I remained completely ignorant of books on how to write and courses on the subject...they would have spoiled my natural style; made me observe caution; would have hedged me with rules."
"When I read about the way in which library funds are being cut and cut, I can only think that Americansociety has found one more way to destroy itself."
"What I will be remembered for are the Foundation Trilogy and the Three Laws of Robotics. What I want to be remembered for is no one book, or no dozen books. Any single thing I have written can be paralleled or even surpassed by something someone else has done. However, my total corpus for quantity, quality and variety can be duplicated by no one else. That is what I want to be remembered for", 20 September 1973, "Yours, Isaac Asimov", page 329.